Parliamentary Privilege First Report

Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege


  The House of Lords and the House of Commons have established a joint committee of the two Houses to review parliamentary privilege. The Joint Committee consists of 12 members.

  Parliamentary privilege consists of those rights and immunities which the two Houses and their members must have in order to carry out their work properly. It includes the right to speak freely and without fear in Parliament, and the right of each House to regulate its own affairs free from outside interference, including the courts. Parliamentary privilege is not a licence for members of Parliament to behave in ways which are unacceptable to society at large. It has its roots deep in history, and as it has developed over the centuries it has in some respects become obscure and uncertain. It is full of technicalities. The Joint Committee will be looking at ways to clarify the whole subject and make it better understood both in Parliament and outside.

  The Joint Committee will be investigating:

    —  what is the purpose and scope of parliamentary privilege?

    —  what uncertainties are there at present in the application of parliamentary privilege?

    —  should the scope and application of parliamentary privilege be modified to meet present day needs: what are the essential protections each House needs for the proper conduct of parliamentary business as we move towards the 21st century?

    —  what are the merits of having the necessary protections of the two Houses codified, either comprehensively or in part, in legislation or in a new set of Resolutions of each House?

    —  is there a more modern and better phrase to replace "parliamentary privilege"?

    —  what are the issues arising out of Article 9 of the Bill of Rights (1688) and freedom of speech?

    —  what remedies should there be for citizens wronged by words or actions in Parliament?

    —  what is the scope of the phrase (used in the Bill of Rights) "proceedings in Parliament": what aspects of parliamentary activity (in addition to freedom of speech) should be treated as "proceedings in Parliament"?

    —  what issues arise from the exclusive jurisdiction of the two Houses over their members and internal proceedings?

    —  what issues arise from Members' freedom from arrest and molestation and protection from outside interference?

    —  what response should Parliament make to the announcement by the Government that it intends to legislate on corruption? Should the improper influencing or bribery or attempted bribery of Members of either House be subject to the criminal law and the jurisdiction of the courts? If so, are safeguards necessary to protect Members' freedom of speech? The Joint Committee wishes to make an early report on the improper influencing or bribery of Members.

    —  section 13 of the Defamation Act 1996: to what extent (if any) should proceedings in Parliament be subject to the scrutiny of the courts in actions for defamation?

    —  what in modern circumstances should constitute contempt of the House: should those actions which either House may treat as a contempt be codified either by Resolution or in Standing Orders or even in legislation?

    —  the powers of each House to punish those who have committed contempts of the House; whether the penalties for contempt of the two Houses need to be modified and updated (for example, should the Commons have the same power as the Lords to impose fines on non-Members, and should the two Houses have power to award damages?);

    —  what are the implications for parliamentary privilege of:

      (i)  the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law;

      (ii)  a Freedom of Information Act;

      (iii)  the Official Secrets Act?

    —  any other relevant issues;

        and the lessons which can be drawn at Westminster from the experience of other countries with similar parliamentary systems.

  The Joint Committee welcomes written submissions from anyone who wishes to comment on all or any of these points. Submissions should be made not later than 13 January 1998 and sent to the Clerk of the Journals, House of Lords, London SW1A 0PW.

25 November 1997

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Prepared 9 April 1999